Archive for the ‘FAMOUS BOWLERS’ Category

Bill Lillard (1949)

June 30, 2022

Lillard, Bill (1949)


Bowling Hall of Fame, 1972

#15 Bowler of the 20th Century

Bowler of the Year, 1955-56

All-American, 1951-52, 1953-54, 1954-55, 1955-56

All-Star champion, 1955-56

8 ABC championships (1955-T, 1955-TAE, 1956-T, 1956-D, 1956-AE, 1956-TAE, 1962-CT, 1971-CT)

1 PBA title

Billy Sixty (1961)

June 19, 2022


Bowling Hall of Fame, 1961

1 ABC championship (1948-TAE)

Gloria Bouvia—R.I.P.

June 7, 2022


Bowling Hall of Fame, 1987

All-American, 1966-67

All-Star champion, 1966-67

3 WIBC championships (1966-S, 1969-D, 1970-D)

2 PWBA titles


Joanne Foster (1957)

May 31, 2022

“Miss Brunswick Lustre-Kote”

John Barrymore (1939)

May 24, 2022


“The Great Profile”–famous actor

Jim Chalmers (1905)

May 19, 2022

Chalmers, James


2 ABC championships (1905-T, 1908-D)

LaVerne Carter (1962)

May 10, 2022


Bowling Hall of Fame, 1977

Bowler of the Year, 1963-64

All-American, 1961-62, 1963-64

All-Star champion, 1963-64

Match-Game Doubles champion, 1958, 1959

1 WIBC championship (1951-AE)

George Pacropis (1955)

May 3, 2022


1 ABC championship (1955-D)

Johnny Small’s Magic Ball

April 28, 2022

Most knowledgeable bowlers know the origin of the high-tech bowling ball.  In 1973 PBA pro Don McCune discovered that soaking a plastic ball in the chemical solution MEK improved the lane-gripping qualities of the ball’s surface.  Thus began the era of Chemical Bowling.

Yet McCune was not the first person to demonstrate the scoring potential locked in the shell of a bowling ball.  For that part of the story, we have to go back further in time.

In 1939 the Raybestos-Manhattan Company began making bowling balls.  The firm was an old, established manufacturer of rubber products, and the booming bowling market provided a logical opportunity for expansion.  As one bit of advertising copy promised, the new Manhattan ball would be the finest ever made.  It would “offer greater resistance to wear, and maintain its original spherical shape longer than any pellet ever offered to the tenpin world.”

In Chicago, radio broadcaster Sam Weinstein had just gone into the bowling supply business.  He became the first distributor of the Manhattan ball.  The factory sent Weinstein a batch of 100, and he sold most of them.  Then problems started to develop.

The new balls had an excess of static electricity.  And as we learned in junior high science class, rubber that has an excess of static electricity gets sticky.  “Those balls gripped the lanes like no other ball ever did,” Weinstein remembered years later.  “But they really got dirty and the bowlers couldn’t keep their hands clean.

Johnny Small

That didn’t bother Johnny Small.  A member of Joe Wilman’s Budweiser team, Small was one of that large group of bowlers who ranked just below the elite—“a good team bowler,” the expression went.  He was a rugged competitor who rolled so many pot games that friends called him The Marathon Man.  Two things about Small stood out.  His backswing was ridiculously short.  And though just in his early thirties, he was almost completely bald.

Small had purchased one of the new balls from Weinstein.  He was in the electrical business himself, so presumably he understood why his Manhattan got so greasy so quickly.  What mattered to Small was that he was suddenly cleaning up in all his money matches.  At a time when the best bowlers averaged a shade over 200, he was regularly rolling 240s and 250s.

Meanwhile, Manhattan had been working to correct the rubber problem.  The company issued a recall of its “electric” balls, replacing each one with a new model.  At first, Small didn’t want to turn his in.  Weinstein finally convinced him, and Small got a different ball.  Just as he’d feared, his game reverted to its previous level.

Now Small went back to Weinstein to retrieve the original ball.  A search of the shop revealed that it had been shipped back to Manhattan.  The factory was contacted, and an exhaustive search of those premises was undertaken.  After weeks of uncertainty, the news finally came back—the magic ball had already been melted down.

The next part of the tale should say that Small spent the next thirty years, and thousands of dollars, trying to replicate that lost ball.  Maybe he did.  But if he did, he never admitted it.

Manhattan continued to manufacture bowling balls for decades.  Sam Weinstein’s supply business became a success.  Johnny Small’s bowling resume eventually included three ABC eagles, a share of the BPAA Doubles title, and an eighth-place finish in the All-Star Tournament.

Of course, we may presume that Small would have done even better if he had managed to keep that special ball.  Had that been the case, today we might all be using rubber bowling balls . . .  and washing our hands between frames.

First published in BOWLERS JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL in February 2008. For this story and 89 more, buy a copy of my book THE BOWLING CHRONICLES. Available on Amazon or at select bookstores.

Courtney Gronke (1972)

April 17, 2022


Chicago Bowling Star